High-Resolution Topographic Lidar Mapping in Florida: A Statewide Initiative

Since 1972, with the authorization of Florida Statute 373, topographic mapping conducted in concert with the US Geological Survey (USGS) has been a focus for water resources in the State of Florida.  The Florida Water Management Districts, guided by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), have taken the lead in securing both State and US Geological Survey/3D-Elevation Program funding to maintain the topographic mapping effort.  Since 2002, the Water Management Districts have partnered with the FDOT and the Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) to collect lidar (light detection and ranging) topographic data in support of watershed and urban stormwater modeling, storm surge modeling, and other emergency applications throughout the state.

In the early days, FY2002 - FY2006 of the lidar surveys, lidar data collections were directed at specific watersheds and/or counties with little coordination.  Lidar specifications varied widely among the “piecemeal” projects resulting in large discontinuities, both vertically and horizontally between projects.  Breaklining, for hydrological and hydraulic modeling, was inconsistent as were the derived products, such as Digital Elevation Models and contours.

Following the series of hurricanes and tropical storms that ravaged the peninsula of Florida in 2016 and 2017, the FDEM, FDOT and the Water Management Disricts secured a Florida Legislative Budget Request to update the topographic data.  Partnering with the USGS and its Hurricane Irma Relief project, the State of Florida engaged in a single, high precision, QL1 lidar mission for the entire peninsula.  The goal of the survey is to construct a single, seamless elevation model for the peninsula. Dewberry was selected to coordinate all data collection, quality control, and management for this project.  Dewberry teamed with three national survey firms, Digital Aerial Solutions, Quantum Spatial Inc (now NV5 Geospatial), and Woolpert to collect and process over 34,000 sq. miles of lidar data during a single flight season.  

Then, in 2019, following Hurricane Michael, the USGS provided funding to continue the high-precision QL1 study through the eastern panhandle of Florida. Once again, Dewberry was selected to collect, process, and manage the project.  Simultaneously, Leon County, Florida, located in the mid-panhandle of Florida, commissioned Dewberry to conduct the first county-wide QL0 lidar mission in the country.  This discussion highlights the funding sources, acquisition planning, and data processing involved with these three recent lidar projects.

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